by Nicole Corlew
“I believe God is calling me to be a missionary in South Africa.” I went on to explain why, as my priest listened attentively.
It was early 2009. I had just mustered up enough courage to talk with my priest about this stirring in my soul. Growing up, most kids know what they want to be when they “grow up,” but I was a different. I was more sure of what I didn’t want to do than what I wanted to do, and being a missionary was at the top of the “don’t want” list. Nearly twenty years later, I was having this change of heart. It was God calling.
When I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa in 2006-2007, I jumped at the chance. I fell in love with the country, and I knew that I would return someday. I had a sense of being called toward something, but not knowing exactly what. In the following months and years, this “nudge” continued. Each time I returned to South Africa on a mission trip, I felt a deep-rooted joy well up in me.
Back in my everyday life, a voice would speak to my soul, saying, “What about South Africa?” I finally decided to pay attention to this gentle nudge. And so, at the beginning of 2009, I was sitting in my priest’s office, talking with him about this sense of call.
I always thought discernment was a fancy word for “making an informed decision,” but I have discovered that it is more than that. It means praying, honestly talking with God, and listening. It means talking to trustworthy friends and advisors.
When I first started sensing that God was calling me to mission work, I spent several Saturday afternoons reading “calling stories” in the Bible—Abraham and Sarah, Gideon, Jonah, Jeremiah, the Twelve. I prayed through journaling, as I tend to express myself best in words. I ended my prayer time in holy silence. A billion thoughts raced through my mind and I often fell asleep.
I also met once a month to pray with a close friend. I could be open and honest with her about my fears, concerns, and excitement.
In the fall of 2010, with the guidance of my priest, I began a formal discernment process at my church. This has been the most meaningful part of my journey. A group of faithful and prayerful parishioners served on my committee and helped me to discern whether or not God was indeed calling me to mission work. It was a humbling experience, as I had to be vulnerable, totally honest about my spiritual journey and life. Having a group of people walk this journey with me for many months has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.
So you may be thinking, “So what? How can I apply this to my life?” I hope you are asking yourself this question! I believe that God has callings for each of us. Some of these are general callings; others are more specific. Some are for life; others are for a season. If you believe that God is calling you do something, here is some practical advice.
- Pray. Just talk to God in an honest and open way; make it a conversation. Equally talk and listen.
- Pray with another person or with others. Talk with a trusted friend who will tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. This helps you discern what is truly a God-calling rather than a desire or a whim.
- Engage in a discernment process. If you can, meet periodically with a group of people who are committed to help you faithfully follow God’s call. If it’s not possible to invest in this process over time, you may want to consider holding a day-long “clearness committee.”
- Step out on faith. Let’s be honest. Discerning a call doesn’t go on forever. After a while you make a decision. Take the leap in total confidence. God’s guidance and shepherding will continue to guide you, even if you need to adjust your direction.
Living a Christian life is the adventure of all adventures. Through Jesus Christ even the weakest of us is made strong. Our Lord calls us to an abundant life, and it is only when we say “yes” to God that this promise can be fulfilled.
Nicole Corlew is formerly the associate editor of devozine (devozine.org), The Upper Room’s magazine for youth. In January 2013, she moved to Cape Town, South Africa, as an Anglican missionary. To find out more about her ministry, please visit nicolecorlew.com.
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